One of the things that fascinates me and attracts me to Indigenous spirituality is its deep connection to the land of North America. The connection to the land is felt intimately and profoundly. Europeans who came to this continent and often, as the Eagles said in their memorable song, ‘The Last Resort’, “raped the land,” did not understand that deep connection. It was completely foreign to them. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’) Report, commented on this as follows,:
“Land, language, culture, and identity are inseparable from spirituality; all are necessary elements of a whole way of being, of living on the land as Indigenous peoples.”
Because of this deep connection between Indigenous spirituality and the land, the twin attacks by Europeans against both native land and native spirituality amplified the harm and the hurt them all the more. One residential school survivor, Anishinaabe Elder Fred Kelly eloquently described this to the TRC as follows:
“To take territorial lands away from a people whose very spirit is so intrinsically connected to Mother Earth actually dispossesses them of their very soul and being; it was to destroy whole Indigenous nations. Weakened by disease and separated from their traditional foods and medicines, First Nations peoples had no defence against further government encroachment on their lives. Yet they continued to abide by the terms of the treaties trusting in the honour of the Crown to no avail. They were mortally wounded in mind, body, heart, and spirit that turned them into the walking dead. Recovery would take time, and fortunately they took their sacred traditions underground to be practiced in secret until the day of revival that would surely come…I am happy that my ancestors saw fit to bring their sacred beliefs underground when they were banned and persecuted. Because of them and the Creator, my people are alive and in them I have found answers.”
Spiritual violence runs deep. This spiritual violence affected many of the surviving children immeasurably. Many told the TRC how they experienced confusion and fear as a result of their traditional beliefs being stripped away from them. Many of the survivors later saw the huge contradictions between Christian professed beliefs and the way they were actually treated by the so-called Christians. This confused them further as adults. Children who returned from schools to their homes were further confused when their parents clung to the old spiritual ways that had served them so well but, which the youth had been taught to reject. Many indigenous children lost respect for their parents and elders who failed to follow the new “better” religion. Recently I read how one indigenous person learned to hate her parents. Generations often had trouble communicating with each other, particularly when young children started to lose the language of their birth because it was prohibited in the schools where they spent so much time. As the TRC said,
“Survivors who wanted to learn the spiritual teachings of their ancestors were criticized and sometimes ostracized by their own family members who were Christians, and by the church. Survivors and their relatives reported that the tensions led to family breakdown—such is the dept of this spiritual conflict. The cumulative impact of the residential schools was to deny First Nations, Inuit, and Métis their spiritual birthright and heritage.”
Because of their historic role in the dismemberment of First Nation families and communities, Christians churches should be at the forefront of reconciliation. some of them are. Some of those churches have apologized for their actions. That is good, but it is not enough. They should now be leading the reconciliation efforts with actions.